SEAL BEACH — Members of the Southwest Chamber Music Society--pianist Albert Dominguez, violinist Peter Marsh and hornist Jeff von der Schmidt--opened the 16th annual Seal Beach Chamber Music Festival with a program of Beethoven and Brahms at McGaugh School Auditorium. This performance was as uneven as it was conservative.
Tight ensemble work in Beethoven's Sonata in C minor for violin and piano created its pinnacle. Here Marsh and Dominguez exploited well-coordinated accents and sudden shifts in mood and dynamics for a powerfully engaging opening movement and a light, aggressively humorous Scherzo. In the Adagio they produced an unforced cantabile that remained unflappable even when members of the audience wandered heedlessly in and out of the hall.
Dominguez had begun the festival with Beethoven's Piano Sonata in D, Opus 10, No. 3. The performance had a much-lived-with quality, marked by an internalized and natural interpretation, but was marred by technical clarity that slipped with time. Accordingly, the pianist pedaled through some sloppy runs in the first and last movements and altered an occasional note in the Largo.
Nevertheless, Dominguez offered much excitement as well, using myriad dynamics at even the fastest tempos to control a commanding thrust. His second movement emerged with particular intensity and soul-searching, with volume and dynamic variation even more surprising considering the small Steinway grand (which could have stood another tuning).
The second half of the concert, the Brahms' Opus 40 Horn Trio, vacillated between moments of stuffy hesitancy and forceful energy.
In the only piece that required horn, the initial Andante was a brass-player's nightmare--demanding that Schmidt produce soft, sustained lines after having sat mute for the first half of the program. Not until the third movement did he seem to find his footing, joining his companions in sustained, brooding imitation, and finding relief in bright passages.